Time to Read: 8 minutes
If we told you that almost half the United States’s water supply is used for one purpose, what would you guess that purpose to be? Drinking? Showering?
Watering the lawn? Flushing the toilets?
Here’s a hint: it takes 2,400 gallons of water to make one pound of beef.
That’s right, nearly half of our water is spent tending to animals that are destined for the slaughterhouse. In contrast, a pound of wheat (which can, in turn, be used to produce much more food than that pound of beef) takes only 25 gallons of water.
This is just one of many reasons to go vegan. However, it can be daunting to overhaul your eating habits and make every meal a meatless meal, especially one without tofu.
Making a delicious meatless meal that the whole family will enjoy is easier than you think. Read on for some expert tips!
You Have Probably Eaten a Meatless Meal Recently
Unless you are a diehard steak-and-potato person, chances are you’ve eaten at least one meatless meal in the past few days.
Had plain cheese pizza recently? A slice of super trendy avocado toast for breakfast, or some vegetable dumplings or sesame noodles from your favorite Chinese takeout place? All meatless meals!
In fact, you probably eat a lot more meatless meals than you realize. When you stop to think about some of your favorite foods, you will see that going vegetarian or vegan is a goal that is closer than you may have imagined.
Explore the World of Meat Substitutes
Especially when you are just starting out as a non-omnivore, you may be searching for meatless meals that replicate your old favorites. That’s where meat substitutes can come in handy.
In recent years, the array of available meat substitutes has expanded significantly, and the global market is expected to reach some $5.2 billion USD by 2020.
Meat substitutes include texturized vegetable protein, which stands in for ground beef in soups, chilis, pasta sauce, hamburgers and meatless loaves.
There are also plenty of ready-made products designed to mimic the appearance and taste of tuna, chicken cutlets, burgers, sausages, and even deli meat.
If you have a soy allergy, check the ingredient list to make certain there are no soy derivatives in the products you choose. Most packaging will make it clear if the meat substitute is soy-free, gluten-free, etc.
…and Meat Substitutes 2.0
We’ll be honest; some processed meat substitutes are unappealing to many vegans. They’re pricey, for one thing, particularly if you swap them in for every meat-based dish you already eat. They won’t taste like their animal-based counterparts, and some people never get used to the differences.
Lastly, the fact that these not-dogs and faux nuggets are so highly processed can be a turn-off to those who eat vegan, in part, to minimize their diet’s impact on the planet.
With a little creativity and some strategic use of spices, you can make a meatless meal that is close to the original – and maybe even tastier! Umami-rich portabello mushrooms make a stupendous burger or can be sliced up for a beef-free mushroom stroganoff or stew.
Lentils are great in chili, mock-shepherd’s pie, and as taco fillings. Hummus helps bulk up a vegetable wrap and works well as a stand-in for mayo or cream cheese in sandwiches.
Or try smashing up cooked chickpeas and adding your usual egg-salad or chicken-salad ingredients. A couple of dashes of curry powder work nicely here, too. Pile this delicious mix on some whole-grain bread, and you have a satisfying vegetarian sammie!
Craving comfort food like chicken pot pie or chicken and dumplings? Use chickpeas, along with a rainbow of vegetables. You won’t miss the chicken. Promise.
What About the Protein Content of a Meatless Meal?
You may already know that legumes, including the lentils and chickpeas we just mentioned, provide a good source of protein. But you don’t have to load up every plate with beans or faux meat to get plenty of protein. Nor do you have to chug chalky protein shakes every morning.
Nuts and their butters (or milks) are high in protein, and easy to add to stir-fries, salads, smoothies, and snack plates.
Some vegetables’ protein content may surprise you, too! Green peas have 8.24 grams of protein per cup, while a large baked potato, skin on, provides 7.86 grams. Green leafy vegetables such as collard greens and spinach are also good sources of protein, in addition to their other health benefits.
If you choose a vegetarian rather than a strictly vegan diet, you’ll get plenty of protein from milk, cheese, yogurt, and eggs.
Long story short, it’s a myth that people who don’t eat meat have to struggle to consume enough protein.
Aim for a Variety of Colors, Textures, and Flavors
You’ve heard the suggestion to “eat a rainbow,” and by doing so, you are certain to get a variety of nutrients, polyphenols, antioxidants, and more. Achieving a colorful and varied salad plate or skillet meal, however, will also satisfy your senses.
Crisp vegetables, paired with creamy beans, crunchy nuts, chewy raisins, or fresh orange slices will make a green salad sing. There are loads of plant-based entrees that go far beyond the dull brown stir-fries and heavy, dense wheat bread which once characterized vegetarian fare.
Don’t be afraid to experiment – or to peruse Pinterest looking for inspiration. One one of the best tips for anyone looking to decrease or eliminate their consumption of meat without resorting to tofu? Mix it up.
If you make the same salad for lunch every day, eat the same coconut-yogurt-with-fruit for breakfast, and roast the same old veggies to eat with couscous each evening, you’re going to get burned out, fast.
Next thing you know, you’ll be in the drive-thru of your local fast food chain, ordering a triple-decker with extra bacon.
Before that happens, find some vegan blogs with appealing recipes and subscribe to them. Crowdsource suggestions on your social media. Buy (or borrow from the library) all the vegetable-based cookbooks that look interesting.
…Or Go Super Simple
Remember when you were a child and fantasized about becoming an adult so that you could eat cake for breakfast? Now that you’ve grown up, you realize that cake isn’t the best choice, but neither do you have to conform to the rigid idea that a “meal” consists of one hunk of meat, a starch, and a vegetable.
In other words? It’s perfectly fine to choose a simple baked sweet potato for lunch or a bowl of steamed spinach over brown rice (with maybe some hot sauce or soy sauce for flavor) for dinner.
If this one- or two-ingredient meatless meal appeals to you, then go for it!
It’s true that an apple, sliced and dipped into almond butter, won’t provide you with 100% of your daily nutritional needs. But as part of an overall well-rounded diet, it’s just fine. (And it’s a heckuva lot healthier than cake!)
The further your palate travels from the Standard American Diet, the better your body’s intuition and ability to self-nourish will become. That means you’ll be able to ease up on micromanaging your nutrient intake, and quite literally “go with your gut.”
Odds are that if you’re craving a veggie wrap, a veggie wrap is what your body needs. If all you feel like for lunch is a bowl of butter beans dressed simply with olive oil and a little smoked paprika, trust that this is the meal to eat now.
Think Outside the Country
The traditional dishes of many cultures are meat-free, often because of cultural or religious mores. India and Pakistan are oft-cited examples, and their cuisines offer numerous vegan options. Most use a mix of vegetables, pulses, and aromatic spices to create layers of flavor.
Rice and beans is one dish that is globally popular, although its ingredients vary from country to country (and sometimes do contain meat). Cajun red beans and rice, Cuban black beans and rice, Mexican pintos, Jamaican rice and peas, Hoppin’ John, dahl, French lentils… you could eat a different variant of this classic combo every day for months without repeating a recipe.
Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and South American cuisines are also good sources of meatless meal inspiration.
One great piece of advice for those transitioning to a vegan diet, or who just want to incorporate a meatless meal once in a while, is to buy a cookbook devoted to vegetarian foods from around the world.
Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian is a James Beard Award-winning cookbook that offers up over 600 meatless meal recipes from around the globe.
Yes, You Can Have Treats Too!
Think that a vegan diet means no more sweet snacks or dessert – except for sliced fruit? Think again! Dedicated vegan bakeries are popping up all over the country, but you can make delicious, animal product-free cookies, cakes, pies, pastries, and candies easily.
Have Your Say!
What are your favorite meatless meals? What is your biggest concern or confusion about switching to a plant-based diet? Start a discussion in the comments!